The bill was signed at a special ceremony at Bilawal House, Karachi that was attended by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Federal Ministers Rehman Malik and Moula Bakhsh Chandio, Adviser to Prime Minister on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, provincial ministers and senior federal and provincial government officials.
This development has evoked a mixed reaction from security and legal circles as some analysts believed the law could invite gratuitous civilian interference into the work of security and intelligence agencies, scuttling their capability to effectively discharge their national duty and leading them to demoralisation.
Some legal circles also expressed their reservations over the role of foreign nations in providing financial assistance to the commission, which, they believed, would increase indirect foreign interference in bid to bashing Pakistan’s military as well as its national intelligence agencies.
However, there are others who support the PPP-led ruling alliance over the commission and are dubbing it as a landmark development.
“Today Pakistan has fulfilled a core requirement of the two-decade-old Paris Declaration calling upon the states to set up independent human rights commissions that was reiterated by the United Nations in 2008 soon after the present government took office,” Presidential Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told the media in Karachi.
“An international commitment outstanding for the past nearly quarter of a century has been fulfilled today. It is no mean achievement considering the fact that Pakistan is fighting war against militancy and complaints of human rights violations have been surfacing.”
Elaborating the points in the Bill, he said the Commission, headquartered in Islamabad, would consist of ten members including Chairperson and a member each from the four provinces, Fata and Islamabad Capital Territory, minority communities and the Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women and at least two shall be the women members in this Commission.
“A person shall be eligible for appointment as Chairperson, who has been, or is qualified to be, a judge of the Supreme Court or a person having demonstrable knowledge of, or practical knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights. Similarly a member shall not be less than forty years of age and shall have knowledge and experience relating to human rights. The Chairperson and members shall hold the office for a term of four years that may be extended once.”
According to the law, the Federal Government shall invite suggestions for suitable persons for appointment as Chairperson and members of the Commission and, after proper scrutiny, shall submit a list of these persons to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.
It says the Prime Minister shall, in consultation with the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, forward three names for each post to a Parliamentary Committee for hearing and confirmation of any one person for each post. In case there is no consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, each shall forward separate lists to the bi-partisan and bicameral Parliamentary Committee who in turn shall approve the nominations and forward them to the President for appointment.
The Law says the Chairperson and the member may be removed from office on the grounds and in the manner provided for in Article 209 of the Constitution.
The Commission would perform its functions either taking suo moto or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf for violation of human right or abetment thereof and the negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant. It can intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court by making application for becoming a party to the proceeding before the court.
The Commission or any person authorised by it may visit any jail, place of detention or any other institution or place under the control of the Government or its agencies, where convicts, under trial prisoners, detainees or other person are lodged or detained for purposes of ascertaining the legality of their detention as well as to find out whether the provisions of the applicable laws or other provision relating to the inmates living conditions and their other rights are being complied with.
It would review the safeguards provided by or under the Constitution or any other law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend adoption of new legislation, the amendment of existing law and adoption or amendment of administrative measures for their effective implementation. It would also review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures. The Commission would undertake and promote research in the field of human rights, maintain database on the complaints and development of human rights norms.
The Commission would also spread human rights literacy among various section of society and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, print and electronic media, seminars and other available means in all major languages of the country.
The Commission would submit independent reports to the Government on the state of human rights in Pakistan for incorporation in reports to United Nations bodies or committees. It would also develop a national plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The law says that the when the inquiry of Commission discloses the violation of human rights, it would recommend the action and interim relief to the victim to the Government or authority concerned.
The Commission would have all the powers of a Civil Court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (Act V of 1908). It may call for information or report in cases of human rights form Government or its organisation.
“While dealing with the human rights violation cases involving the members of the armed forces, the Commission may either on its own motion or on receipt of a petition seek a report from the Federal Government. In case a complaint against intelligence agencies is made, the Commission would refer the complaint to the competent authority concerned.
The Law states that the Commission would have complete financial and administrative independence.
The Federal Government would specify a Court of Session to be a Human Rights Court for Islamabad Capital Territory and appoint an advocate on the recommendation of the Commission for the purpose of speedy trial of cases relating to human rights in that Court.
There shall be established a National Commission for Human Rights Fund under the Commission whose sources would include contribution from the Federal Government, grants, endowment and income there from etc. The Commission may from time to time accept unconditional grants or contributions from donors and non-governmental organization in a transparent manner with approval from the Federal Government. The Fund would be audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan, the law says.
The Commission would prepare its Annual and Special Reports and present them to the Federal Government which would be laid before the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), by the Government along with a Memorandum indicating the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendation of the Commission and reasons for non-implementation of the recommendations, if any.
The Spokesperson said that law signed today was first introduced as bill in the National Assembly in 2008 and passed by the Parliament this year.
The Adviser on Human Rights who was present at the signing ceremony will now formally write to the Speaker National Assembly urging her to form the Parliamentary Committee for hearings and confirmation in each of the posts in the Commission the names for which will be forwarded to it by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly in accordance with the new law.
He said that out of the nine core international human rights treaties Pakistan has already signed seven core treaties. Discussions and consultations are going on in respect of the remaining two core treaties relating to enforced disappearances and a labour related treaty. Discussion on a resolution urging the government to sign the convention on preventing enforced disappearances has already commenced in the last session of the Senate and will be taken up at the next Private Member’s Day in the upper House under the Rules, he said.
Panel to grill sleuths comes into reality